PREVIEW: WORLD RX OF GERMANY
After Johan Kristoffersson clinched his second consecutive drivers’ crown in the USA last time out, all sights are turned towards the fight for second in the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy, as Germany’s Estering welcomes the penultimate round of the 2018 campaign this weekend (13/14 October).
The Buxtehude track is the oldest on the World RX calendar – having hosted international events since 1973 – and while one of the shortest laps on the schedule, it is also one of the fastest with a long downhill run between turns one and two. The 2014 edition witnessed the closest finish in rallycross history, with just five thousandths-of-a-second separating the top two at the chequered flag.
That event was won by two-time World RX Champion Petter Solberg, who is one of four drivers currently embroiled in a tight tussle for the overall runner-up laurels. The PSRX Volkswagen Sweden star – who has two further podium finishes to his credit at the Estering – was on fine form in Texas just over a week ago, topping the intermediate classification, winning his semi-final and only narrowly missing out on victory to team-mate Kristoffersson.
Solberg was similarly Top Qualifier in Germany 12 months ago, meaning the Norwegian is one of the pre-event favourites, while a number of his rivals also have cause to fancy their chances at World RX of Germany.
Last year’s winner Mattias Ekstrom is two points ahead of Solberg in the title table and has been a model of consistency this season. The other two contenders in the fight for second – Ekstrom’s EKS Audi Sport stablemate Andreas Bakkerud and Team Peugeot Total’s Sebastien Loeb – have tallied 11 podiums between them this year so can never be discounted, although the Frenchman has yet to reach the final at the Estering. Just nine points cover second-placed Ekstrom down to fifth-placed Loeb in the overall standings – setting the stage for a battle royale.
Intriguingly, newly-crowned champion Kristoffersson has never reached the podium in Germany in four previous starts, with the Buxtehude event the only one on the current calendar he has yet to win – and the only one last year in which he didn’t progress through to the final. The Swede will be determined to overturn that trend this weekend – while his adversaries will be eager to capitalise at what could be regarded as the Volkswagen driver’s ‘bogey’ track.
Swedish siblings Timmy and Kevin Hansen – both competing for Team Peugeot Total, the latter as an individual entry – have been evenly-matched in recent rounds, though the former has fallen away from the second-place battle since engine change penalties in Latvia and the USA resulted in a loss of 30 championship points. Timmy finished second in Germany last year, and will require a similarly big result this time out and a significant slice of bad luck for his rivals if he is to keep his runner-up hopes alive. Younger brother Kevin has made it into the final in both of his previous World RX of Germany starts and will be targeting a hat-trick.
GRX Taneco Team’s Niclas Gronholm finished fifth at the Estering last season and has been one of the stars of 2018, sitting seventh in the standings, while Hyundai team-mate and former Euro RX Champion Timur Timerzyanov is keen to conclude the campaign on a high note over the remaining two events.
GC Kompetition will field a three-strong stable of Renault Megane Supercars for the first time in World RX, with team owner Guerlain Chicherit joined by both Britain’s Liam Doran and Swedish star Anton Marklund, who debuted for the team in Texas last month. Doran boasts the best record of the trio in Germany, winning there in 2012 on his way to the runner-up spoils in Euro RX.
Two other drivers with excellent form at the Estering are Olsbergs MSE pairing Kevin Eriksson and Robin Larsson. Eriksson produced a spectacular ‘round the outside’ first corner move to snatch his maiden World RX victory there two years ago, while Larsson took the chequered flag third in 2014.
The 20-strong entry list is completed by Team STARD’s Janis Baumanis, Sebastien Loeb Racing’s Gregoire Demoustier, Briton Oliver Bennett in his unique MINI, home hero Rene Muennich for ALL-INKL.COM Muennich Motorsport, Norway’s Kjetil Larsen and reigning RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires Champion Cyril Raymond, who finished third in the 2018 FIA European Rallycross Championship for Supercar. The Frenchman will campaign a Peugeot 208 at the circuit where – two years ago – he made his World RX debut.
Kevin Eriksson, Olsbergs MSE, said: “Germany two years ago was without doubt the best moment of my World RX career to-date. It’s always special to win, but to do so at the absolute pinnacle of the sport and against the very best drivers in the business is an incredible feeling. The first corner was the key for me. I had visualised the start in my head so many times, and when it came to it, I swallowed some brave pills and just went for it – and it paid off! Going back to the Estering always brings back good memories for me, and with the recent engine updates to our Ford Fiesta, hopefully we can have another strong performance this year.”
World RX Managing Director for IMG, Paul Bellamy, commented: “It’s hard to believe there are just two rounds left on the 2018 World RX calendar, but they are sure to serve up plenty of action and excitement. The Estering as a venue is steeped in rallycross history and invariably produces amazing races, and with the championship battle now decided, the gloves are off. Everybody will be going all-out to win this weekend – and that will make for a thrillingly unpredictable event.”
From a Cooper Tires point of view
Paul Coates, General Manager – Motorsport, Cooper Tire Europe, said:
“The Estering is another popular track, and even though it may be one of the shortest circuits, the back straight is one of the fastest – where speeds can approach 180km/h. This track shows how the Cooper rallycross tyre brings together our extensive multi-disciplinary knowledge and technology to produce tyres that can race at high speeds and, at the same time, are able to cope with the quick changes between gravel and dirt surfaces.”
FIA European Rallycross Championship for Super1600
The Estering will host the final round of the FIA European Rallycross Championship for Super1600. Following a dominant display last time out in Latvia, the title battle is led by Volland Racing driver Rokas Baciuska, eight points ahead of Russia’s Aydar Nuriev. Artis Baumanis similarly has designs on the crown, four points further in arrears. Italy’s Andrea Carretti will join the 25-car field in an Alfa Romeo Mito.
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